Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Struggling with Weight: the No-Diet perspective

If someone you know loses weight, don't ask them what diet they used. That's like giving a marathoner's shoes credit, or asking an artist what paintbrush brand she uses when admiring a painting. It's the person that does the work, not the equipment.

I've been struggling with my weight since the 4th grade. I went up through the 27th grade last year. This is frightful math. So when someone simplifies the notion of weight loss with a quick-fix diet, or points out that "it's calories in, calories out," I feel like they think I'm stupid. Just like every thinking American of my age, I understand the properties of weight loss. I understand how to get in shape. If all it took was going on Atkins, or Weight Watchers, or South Beach, I would have ended my struggle 20 years ago. I've been on every diet. I've lost weight on every diet. Yet I'm still in terrible shape. And I'm not stupid! I've been through the 27th grade, after all.

I'm stating this because it's true: you cannot simply get in shape by going on a diet. And yet, any diet--any of them--can get you to lose weight. You can buy every diet book, log every meal, attend every meeting, but this is like saying that the answer to writing a novel is typing.

The anolgy of maintaining your body like you maintain a car is over used and out of date. If your car were an evolved, emotional animal thrust into an unhealthy modern society with volumes of suppressed emotions being capitalized on by a heartless food industry, then we'd be a little closer to the mark. Your car is a machine and you are not. You don't have to work hard to use the right fuel and you don't have an emotional breakdown at every oil change. Your body is not a damn car. Will health classes finally stop saying this?

Why do we suppose that a duet is how to lose weight? The same reasons that we have for thinking a better car will make us happy or that one soap is better than another: advertising. It shouldn't surprise anyone; much of American discontent is caused by advertising. The diet industry puts billions of dollars a year toward convincing us that diets are normal and even necessary. They put billions toawrds making us form a precognitive link between diet and weight loss. We are pretty defenseless against this. The same way that evolution has left us defenseless against a tiger's claws.

When someone loses weight, it is through hard work, daily struggle, determination, strength, support, battles with fear, dependence on love, questions of faith, feelings of guilt and worthlessness, thoughts of meaninglessness, and finally feelings of triumph and relief. It is not simple. It is not calories in and calories out. It is not counting carbs and weighing food. It is a deep, powerful, and frightening personal commitment. Do not discount their struggle and accomplishment by asking if they "used Atkins" or "did weight watchers."

This is not a triumph of formula or corporate eating plan. It is a triumph of humanity. Don't discount it. Don't dare.

It is hard. I'm at it again. For the 24th year in a row. I'm down 40 lbs from my all-time high of a few years ago, but I've got a solid 50 or more to lose before I can think about stopping. It's been 3 weeks of hard work, rough days, fighting my surroundings and my every impulse. And its getting harder. I haven't been proud of myself for days. So what if I'm 11pounds down from where I started? It means nothing if I stop now.

We need to refocus. We need to retool. We need to remember that nothing external can make you change, that you are constantly reinventing yourself. So reinvent yourself the way you want to be. And take credit for it. Never, ever say "it was easy."


Anonymous said...

Well said, Sol. It isn't easy. It's never ever easy. And it's never ever over. There are communities of people who can provide some support, but it comes down to somehow being able to daily make decisions that run counter to much of our desires and culture. EVERY diet works. One isn't more magical than another.

I wish you well on this continuous life issue. Last I saw you, it was obvious you were doing well.

Last night I went to this WW function - 101 people were there who had lost 50+ lbs. About everyone had something to say. But the 3 people who made the biggest impression on me were the three who had each lost from 70 - 120 lbs BEFORE and gained every bit of it back, then lost it again. It was scary to me. I think it was supposed to be inspiring but it reminded me that it's never over. I think I signed in here anonymous but, hey, it's Roz.

Sol Smith said...

That kind of thing really freaks me out. I recently read an article by someone who wrote that he had lost 600 lbs--the same 50 lbs every year for 12 years, gaining it back each time. Scary.

It should be noted that Rozelle keeps an exceedingly articulate and insightful blog about the changing face of weight watchers at:


Melia said...

So, my question to you is why are you trying to lose weight? Statistically, 95% of diets fail and people regain the weight. There is no data that proves that weight causes any additional problems - thin people can suffer from the same diseases.

If your goal is to increase your overall health, then focus on that, not the numbers. If the numbers happen to change, fine, but putting your focus on the numbers isn't the way to do it, and that's been proven.

If you are exercising to lose weight, it's hard to stay motivated. If you are exercising because you like the way it makes your body feel, it's much easier to keep doing it, and you will see your health improve as a result.

I find that my goal, as a parent, is to teach my children a healthy lifestyle. Hopefully they will enjoy being active and eating good foods that enrich their bodies. Having been raised in a household where the focus was always on losing that "10 lbs" through any means, I have NO desire to teach my kids that weight is the ultimate focus, either by my actions or by my words.

Sol Smith said...

at my heaviest, I was 312 lbs. At my worst, I think of little besides eating. I can't trust myself in a gas station or passing a fast-food place on the way to work. I get my feelings hurt when I can't eat what I want. I get angry and short.

I'm a little better now. A little. 271, at last check. Not good. I feel like crap, I hate how I look, and wish I had a better relationship with myself.

I've always, since as far back as I can remember, I've wanted to ride a mule into the grand canyon. They have a weight limit of 200lbs. I will probably never do it. And it will be because I smother myself with food. I often think that being a cutter would give me a better life.

Melia said...

Sol, I am sorry you're struggling. I've been there and the road was hard. As you said, it's not easy, no matter what path you choose to get out of it. I hope you can find peace and a solid path - whatever that is.

Hold on to that dream of the canyon by mule. It's the dreams that get us where we want to be. They motivate us to change and better ourselves.

I wish you a peaceful relationship with food, whatever form that takes for you. You deserve that.

dd said...

I go up and down a lot, it's frustrating.

In fact, my lowest that I can remember was a fluke, my son was born and I didn't feel like eating.

I gained that all back, it just took a thanksgiving here, and a christmas there.

But I do go through bouts of success, and each bout feels better than the last. Some lessons I learned:

- Find food that you like that fills you up enough, if you can eat the same thing over and over makes life easy for a while.
- You have to budget for food by calroies... you kind of have to play with your head. E.g. get really busy and then let yourself eat a decent amount when you aren't busy.
- Make arbitrary rules- like no sugar. Or No sugar after 5pm. Or whatever your food that you binge on is.
- Let people know your plans. My wife has learned to accept that if I eat any kind of lunch, that I might not be very hungry for dinner, and may not have calroies left over.

It is a struggle - I'm measuring my calories carefully, but family is in town and they are slowly sabotaging it, but not so bad that I can't recover.

Al Qna said...

Thank you sol, you inspired me now I really need to take some time, and a very big bag(s)....lol and throw away my nightly stash of what has been a big anchor for a long time.
Maybe even stay away from the stores for a week or two. Bottom line you really got me thinking, this is me doing this to me, and it's making me feel older then I am. Thank you very much Kevin Q.